For many of us, the holiday season can be summed up in one word: Busy. From shopping and cooking and decorating to traveling and attending parties and other events, the weeks between now and December 31 are some of the busiest of the year.
For those living with chronic pain, the holiday season is often filled with stress. For the rest of the year, socializing and other “festive” activities can take a back burner, but it’s a lot more difficult to cancel plans or skip activities during the holiday season. The sheer weight of expectations can be overwhelming, and for many people, this only exacerbates their pain.
So how can you enjoy the holidays while keeping your pain in check? Here are a few ways to ensure you don’t end up feeling like the Grinch.
See a Pain Specialist
If you have been living with pain, now is the time to see a Pain Specialist to find the root cause of your pain and explore treatment options. Treating the pain now can help you feel better as the holidays approach (and well beyond). Your Pain Specialist can also help you find strategies for coping with the holidays and managing your responsibilities.
The Key to Holiday Cheer: Getting Help
Beyond getting help managing your pain, most experts on chronic illness agree that the best way to stay healthy during the holidays is to manage expectations — both yours and others — and ask for help when you need it. Being honest about what you can and cannot do can go a long way toward ensuring that you can enjoy the season without making your pain worse.
The first step is to talk with your family and explain your situation to them. Chronic pain is often an “invisible” disease, and some family members may not understand or even realize you are struggling. When you talk to your family, be very specific and speak in terms of behaviors and what you are able to do and why. For example, if the annual Holiday get-together is going to be too much, tell the host that you plan to come, but if you are in pain or experiencing fatigue, you will provide as much notice as possible if you need to change your plans.
If you can only manage a few hours, be upfront: “I am coming, but can only stay for about two hours. I have been in a great deal of pain lately. I appreciate your understanding.” Keep in mind that some people may be disappointed or annoyed that you aren’t participating fully, but you need to put your self-care first, and you cannot control others’ feelings.
Establishing these expectations and your specific needs can go well beyond attending parties or other events. If you typically host a holiday meal, ask others for help — or better yet, set up a potluck-style meal where everyone brings a dish. Or, have the holiday meal catered (many grocery stores offer fully prepared dinners that only need to be reheated) or choose a meal with minimal prep. Opt for convenience when it comes to cooking; not everything needs to be a culinary masterpiece. Remember, the holidays are about spending time with loved ones, not slaving in the kitchen.
Ask for help with other activities or delegate responsibilities. Your spouse and children can help clean the house and decorate. If your kids are old enough, let them decorate the tree while you supervise. Or make it even easier on yourself by investing in a pre-lit artificial tree — no need to fight with the lights!
Other options for handling some of the tasks of the season:
- Shop online. Avoid the stores and stay comfortable by shopping from home. You can even have gifts wrapped and sent right to the recipients, saving you a trip to the post office.
- Use gift wrapping services. If a store offers to wrap your gifts, take them up on it, or use the gift-wrapping services in the mall.
- Use disposable items. Save time scrubbing and cleaning and buy disposable cookware. Consider using paper plates. If pulling out the good dishes matters, then delegate the dishwashing.
Getting help with holiday activities is important, but so is taking care of yourself. Don’t neglect yourself during this busy time.
- Keep up with appointments. If you’re receiving treatment for pain, make those appointments a priority to avoid setbacks.
- Get rest. When tired or hurting, rest. Don’t worry about getting everything done. In fact, start holiday prep early to space everything out and ensure you have time to rest.
- Eat healthy. Maintaining a healthy diet will help you manage your pain. Eating the wrong foods could cause more pain, or contribute to a flare up of chronic disease like fibromyalgia.
- Prioritize. Make a list of the most important things you want to do. Let everything else go, or delegate it. Don’t try to do too much; aim to complete one task every day (or a few a week) to avoid overextending yourself.
- Stay active. If exercise is part of your pain treatment plan, stick with it during the holidays. If you take 20 to 30 minutes for yourself each day, it will help you feel better, have more energy, and keep your pain in check.
The holidays can be enjoyable even when you have chronic pain, if you take steps to care for yourself and prioritize your needs.
Ready to seek pain treatment as a gift to yourself? Schedule a consultation at The Heilman Center for Pain and Spine Care.